How To Deal With A Prick: Lessons from Seneca, Jocko, and Aurelius.

By Ciaran O'Regan

What Is A Prick?

Firstly, I want to clarify what exactly a "prick" is in the context of the vernacular used in modern English to describe a person. The below screen shot is of the "top definition" as voted in the Urban Dictionary at the time of writing.

 

(NB* In case I was not clear enough; for the purposes of this article I referring to el numero dos above; "derogatory term used to sum up the existance of a worthless asshole", and not the first definition, "a penis". It is always good to clarify your intentions in any aspect of life in which "a penis" is involved).

The reason I chose the word "prick", is simply because it is a word I have been exposed to in many the discussion with friends when an unpleasant person was the topic of choice (now, while I was probably mostly exposed to it through hearing my own vocal cords producing it rather than from my friends voices, I still have been exposed to it a lot). As such, it is the first descriptive word of its genre that springs to mind when I sat down to write this piece. My predilection towards vulgarity is probably more pronounced than most, much to the chagrin of my parents when growing up (and still to this day). But I digress.....   

Now, while I chose the word prick, you could substitute in any of your own locally appropriate synonyms used to describe a rather unpleasant individual. The same unpleasant person, depending on the part of the world they find themselves in, may be a prick/dickhead/asshole/fucker/fuckwit/fuckhead/twat/gobshite/gomie etc. The list of the descriptive words of this genre is never ending and constantly being added to in innovative and admirably creative ways. This innovation is necessary since calling someone a "cream-faced loon", as did Macbeth to his servant in the Shakespearean play, loses its impact after a while. 

Right, so now that I have provided a pseodo-academic definition of a distasteful descriptive word, along with having taken you admittedly unnecessarily far down the rabbit hole of English vulgarity: what makes a prick a prick in a practical sense?

Perception And Labelling

In its most basic sense, calling someone a prick all comes down to 3 step process. The first step involves an interaction. The second step involves our interpretation and subsequent perception of their actions in this interaction. The third step then involves labeling the person we have deemed to be distasteful, with a suitable word from our own personal vocabulary based off our perception of our interpretation of their actions in this interaction. This highly complex 3 step process summarized like this:

Step 1. We have an interaction with another homo sapien sapien (modern human) of our species.  

Step 2. This other ape we have interacted with (yes we are actually apes, this is not an insult but a factual declarative statement) has a characteristic(s) and/or performs an action(s) we deem to be distasteful/mean-spirited/aggressive etc.   

Step 3. We now decide to label this person a prick.  

 

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” - Marcus Aurelius

 

Why Are They A Prick?

During my brief 27 years on this planet, I have thus far been able to identify and label 3 subcategories of prick through my own personal interactions and study:

1. The Ignorant Prick: This type of prick actually means well and do not want to upset us at all but are for whatever reason totally unaware of how they are being perceived. This ignorant prick may actually be trying to help us but simply does not have the social awareness or skills to understand how to impart their advice to us in a suitable way thereby coming across to us as unpleasant or domineering. 

2. The ASPD Prick: ASPD stands for "Antisocial Personality Disorders" as outlined in the "Diagnostic and Statistical manual for Mental Disorders".  Here are the criteria for ASPD in case you were curious. Under the heading of ASPD are both sociopath and psychopath. A prick under this category upset us because they are a basically a sociopath (which according to Dr. Martha Stout could be 4% of the population) or a psychopath (Coid et al. 2009 found 0.6% of people in Great Britain to be born psychopath). These types of people have the inability to feel remorse or guilt due to social trauma (sociopath), or a genetic defect resulting in an underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for emotions (psychopath). As such, a prick of this variety may upset us because they don't care about us or may even derive enjoyment from upsetting us.   

3. The Bully Prick: They are not ASPD and are just coming across as unpleasant because they are simply projecting their own insecurities and/or sadness out onto the world due to some inner turmoil they have yet to resolve. This type of prick has undergone some trauma themselves and tries to establish some feeling of empowerment by attempting to demonstrate dominance over other people. This is the classic bully. 

 

“All cruelty springs from weakness.” - Seneca

 

Why is This Breakdown and classification Important?

This is important for a very simple reason: it removes the influence of any emotional reaction from a potentially highly emotional situation by looking at a person's personality mechanistically as a collection of parts. Negative emotions such as anger or sadness simply cloud our judgment and rarely if ever result in good decision-making. Once we attempt to break a person down into their component parts, and try to look at where a person is coming from with regards to why they are a prick (or at the very least acknowledge that they are a prick for a reason outside of our control), the likelihood of developing a very clear and logical strategy to deal with this person is much higher as our negative emotion has been removed from the situation. 

Don't lose twice

They are what they are – should we get emotionally attached in a negative way we lose twice. We lose initially as we have allowed ourselves to get stressed (which results in a whole host of harmful physiological and psychological issues), then we lose again as we will probably make a not so good decision while in the stressed state. Essentially, they are just a "prick" because that is what we have chosen to label them as such due to an emotional reaction. Regardless of the reason for their actions, if we were to get upset we are allowing negative emotions to fester due to something they did not even mean to happen, or we are allowing them to win, or we are getting upset at someone who simply has a sloppy mind. For example:

1. Negative Emotion and Ignorant Pricks: If we get angry/sad over the actions of this type of prick, we are getting stressed due to the actions of someone who actually means well and does not mean any harm but is simply unaware of how they are being perceived. Ask yourself: how is allowing a negative emotional reaction to influence your decision-making process in this situation in any way rational?

2. Negative Emotion and ASPD Pricks: If we get angry/sad over the actions of this type of prick, we are getting stressed due to the actions of someone who actually means to cause us harm. By getting stressed here we are essentially allowing this person to win by giving them the reaction they want. We are gifting them a victory wrapped in a bow. Ask yourself: how is allowing a negative emotional reaction to influence your decision-making process in this situation in any way rational?

3. Negative Emotion and Bully Pricks: If we get angry/sad over the actions of this type of prick, we are getting stressed due to the actions of someone who actually means to cause us harm but their actions are coming from a place of inner turmoil and emotional weakness due to sloppy management of their own mind. Ask yourself: how is allowing a negative emotional reaction to influence your decision-making process in this situation in any way rational?

 

“If any man despises me, that is his problem. My only concern is not doing or saying anything deserving of contempt.” ― Marcus Aurelius

 

As you can see from the above 3 examples, allowing ourselves to get emotionally involved to the point where the negative emotion we are allowing to happen is clouding our judgment just doesn't stand up to logic

"But removing emotion from the situation is easier said than done" I hear you say.

"But I am not a robot" I hear you say.

"But I am only human and emotion is normal" I hear you say. 

So what is my response to these statements I imagine many of you to be pondering?

Dealing with pricks is like lifting weights

Think of how we deal with pricks just like how we think of lifting weights. When we lift weights week on week we keep getting stronger (Bro, do you even lift?). This physiological stress followed by subsequent recovery allows us to lift a heavier weight next time for the same reps, or simply to lift the same weight for the same reps with much less relative effort. Dealing with lighter weights initially allows basically allows us to throw heavier weights around eventually. 

Dealing with difficult people is the very same.  

When we get used to practicing dealing with difficult people, even if just practicing staying calm when someone cuts us off in traffic (think light weight), we are strengthening our ability to deal with difficult people. It really is like a muscle. Dealing in a constructive way with unavoidable adversity is just an opportunity to get better with dealing with future unavoidable adversity. Every obstacle in the form of a difficult person we are forced to deal with is just an opportunity to get better at dealing with future difficult people.

 

"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."  - Marcus Aurelius

 

This is all very well in theory, but how do I remove emotion enough to allow for unclouded rationality you may find yourself asking?

Detach. Calm Down. Mind control.

Jocko hits yet another home run with this gem of simplicity: 

(Side note: someone should really make a book of Jockos tweets. He really is a blackbelt at getting powerful lessons across in usually way less than 140 characters)

(Side note: someone should really make a book of Jockos tweets. He really is a blackbelt at getting powerful lessons across in usually way less than 140 characters)

Become detached. It really is that simple. 

Learning to become detached is difficult but very possible. This is a simple concept but not an easy one. Practicing detachment is subject to the same simile I used above regarding weight lifting. It can be trained and improved upon with effort and time. There are also a bunch of approaches we could use to trigger our detachment when dealing with difficult people. For example here are just a few I have used as triggers when experimenting with what works for me:

 1. Look at the situation for what is really is, and acknowledge that getting upset and allowing a negative emotional reaction to cloud our decision making usually leads to nothing good.

or,

2. Look at the ephemeral nature of not just our lives, but of our whole existence as a species. On top of this, realize that this stress is not just a blip on the radar of our lives, but that our negative stress means as much to the universe at large as moving a single grain of sand from one spot on a beach to another means to the ocean. Nature does not give a fuck about us and we are just here to spend our short time before we return our borrowed carbon to the universe having a laugh so stop wasting time and energy dwelling in negativity. 

or my personally preferred option due to its simplicity and brevity,

3. See this stressor as an opportunity to make yourself better and sharpen your social tools. Or, as Mr. Willink likes to say in any situation involving unavoidable adversity (using literally as few words as possible);

 

"Good." - Jocko Willink

 

management of negative emotion is like water filling a sink...

The more and more we practice this concept of emotional management the better we will get at it. Removing negative emotion such as anger or sadness from the situation is not about becoming a robot and not feeling emotions, it is about seeing the negative emotion occur like water filling up a sink. Before the water fills the sink causing an overflow, however, we just pull the plug and let the negative emotion go down the drain. The better we get at managing our emotions, the less water will be able to collect in the sink before we pull the plug. This shit takes constant practice however and I honestly see it as a skill that has no ceiling to its development.

It is all about perception

It is up to us how we deal with pricks. Will we allow ourselves to get emotionally entangled in a downward spiral of negativity leading to subsequent irrationality in our thought processes, or will we see these situations as opportunities to sharpen our social tools. 

It is WAY WAY WAY beyond the scope of this piece to break down every single possible solution to dealing with people who may trouble us. In fact, I think such an article would be infinitely long and infinitely complex due to how varied and multifaceted our weird species is. Humans love getting caught up in gossip and taking other people's negativity to heart far too much. Fuck knows how many times I have heard someone in an enraged voice saying things like "who do they think they are?" or "what right have they to say that to me?" or some other nonsense. Limp Bizkit put it best in their glorious song "Break Stuff";

 

"It's all about that he-says, she-says bullshit
I think you better quit, let the shit slip
Or you'll be leaving with a fat lip
It's all about that he-says she-says bullshit" - Limp Bizkit

 

Our closest mammalian relatives are the chimpanzee and the bonobo and these species solve social problems in polarized but much more simple ways that do not allow for taking each other's negativity to heart and allowing it to fester. Chimpanzees have a very patriarchal society and when they have problems with each other just fuck each other up in vicious fights. On the other hand, bonobos have a more egalitarian and matriarchal society and don't really have any conflict because rather than resolving issues through violence, they substitute sex for aggression. (side note: this is probably why we do not see many bonobos in zoos as all the promiscuity may result in some difficult questions directed at prude parents from their sheltered kids). Humans are far more complex however (which is quite unfortunate as living like a bonobo seems like a good old time. But I digress yet again...). 

As such when looking at our lives in a logical fashion, we cannot see difficult people as “bad” or label them as pricks and view them in an emotional manner as it then it leaves our happiness in life up to pure randomness. With this labeling and emotional investment in negative areas, happiness and peace are left up to chance because theoretically, by sheer mathematical probability, it is possible that;

1. We may be lucky and never come across a single difficult person like this ever again in our lives,

or just as equally likely,

2. We may be unlucky and forced to interact with a difficult person that has characteristics worthy of labeling a prick every single day of the rest of our lives if they are a difficult colleague or family member that we cannot escape due to circumstances out of our control. We could, by utter chance be subject to a series of random unfortunate events which could result in the potential for every job we will ever have for the remainder of our lives containing one colleague that has the characteristics of a prick. Therefore, if we allow ourselves to see this kind of person as a negative and adopt a soft victim mentality, our lives life will fucking suck. 

 

"You don't have to turn this into something. It doesn't have to upset you." Marcus Aurelius

 

The choice is up to us

All I am trying to get across with this piece is the there is benefit to at least attempting to break a problematic person down into their various possible components (figuratively and not literally a la Dexter). This process of attempted mechanistic analysis facilitates a much more calm and rational response from us, rather than the emotionally driven reaction the vast majority of us have been guilty of in the past. Once we get into the habit of seeing difficult people as what they are - just a genetic code that has been expressed through whatever social and environmental influences were undergone, we can then see them as a tool to improve our ability to deal with future difficult people. As a social animal, there is a game to play as a human. We can play this game in a lot more of a stress-free manner if we do not allow our happiness to be left up to random luck.

 

“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.” - Marcus Aurelius